Pandemic slows construction on Habitat for Humanity homes in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — Plans to build homes for low-income families in the Spokane area are being pushed. It’s the latest impact from the global pandemic.

But, Habitat for Humanity Spokane isn’t giving up hope. The nonprofit has already built 330 homes in the area, including Janessa Hogan’s place.

Hogan was pregnant and living in a small apartment with her three children when she learned about Habitat for Humanity last year. She put in the 500 hours of sweat equity to volunteer with the nonprofit to help build a safe place for her family. She got the keys last fall. Hogan had no idea then just how grateful she’d be for the house six months later during the pandemic.

“Once you reach that moment, it is beyond words exciting and so fulfilling to finally become that homeowner,” Hogan said.

There are 40 families on a Habitat for Humanity list, so they can feel that same way. But their future homes are on hold for now, according to CEO Michelle Girardot.

“It’s going to be really tough to build back,” Girardot said.

Girardot explained that they could resume construction even during Gov. Jay Inslee’s ban on construction because they are building low-income housing. But, the nonprofit relies on volunteers, so getting crews together was out of the question during the stay-at-home order.

Girardot doesn’t know exactly when they’ll get volunteers back to sites again, but hopes for sometime in May. The key is make sure people are helping while being safe.

But, it’s not easy to stall construction.

“It’s tough. This is our prime building season,” Girardot said. “So to have time taken away from that, it’s going to be a real challenge.”

It’s crucial they keep up with demand now, because Girardot only expects it to grow in the future as a record number of people feel the sting of unemployment.

Girardot estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of current Habitat homeowners are struggling to pay mortgages themselves. Missed payments have a massive trick-down effect for the nonprofit.

“It’s going to be really tough because at Habitat, when a family makes a mortgage payment, it goes into a revolving fund and we use those dollars to keep building for the next families that are in line,” Girardot said.

Fundraising will be a key component to jump-starting construction eventually. But, the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year isn’t happening in its regular format this year. The Hope Builders Luncheon is now completely online. Girardot said it’s a big change, but one she hopes will help more people get involved. You can join the cause here.

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